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Setting Goals to Start Your Fitness Journey

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Setting Goals to Start Your Fitness Journey

Before jumping into any new activity, it’s important to set goals. Many people find that having a goal in mind gives them something to work toward, motivates them to stay on track and provides a measure of success. But when it comes to setting fitness goals, it may be hard to know where or how to begin.

One of the most popular goals that gets people to jump into fitness is weight loss. But Professional Fitness Trainer Ryan Sheppard, MSEd, says measuring success by a number on the scale or what you look like in the mirror can be detrimental to your fitness when you don’t quickly attain the physique you want. Instead, he recommends making a more positive fitness goal.

“Don’t focus on what you’re losing,” Sheppard said. “Weight loss stalls for all sorts of reasons and can really demotivate us from staying fit. Putting it into one attribute, such as a number on a scale, can cause a lot of frustration.”

“Instead let’s focus on what you’re gaining,” Sheppard said. “You’re gaining health, not losing just weight. You’re gaining years on your life. What makes people successful is looking at the big picture.”

Identify/determine your ultimate goal.

“In general, people want to be stronger, healthier and leaner,” Sheppard said. “Those are givens. So, when you’re setting a goal, look at your life and determine what’s really driving you to want to make a change.”

Tyler Cooper, MD, MPH, President and CEO of Cooper Aerobics, shares for many people it comes down to the want becoming a need. Read “What’s Your Why” to learn how recognizing your individual motivation to be healthy can set you on a path to improving the quantity and quality of your life.

Once you know your “why,” making a positive goal can push you to stay dedicated to your fitness program. It also can make it easier to determine your success. Examples of positive fitness goals are:

  • Running a 5K
  • Being able to do a physically active hobby you enjoy, such as tennis, hiking or swimming
  • Playing with your children or grandchildren without being in pain
  • Adding years to your life

Tying your goals to the reason(s) you’re wanting to be more fit makes staying motivated during the process easier.

For more tips on how to stay motivated, read this article with recommendations from Mary Edwards, MS, Fitness Director at Cooper Fitness Center.

Break big goals down 

What’s the next step once you have your goal in mind? Break it down into smaller steps. It’s a fitness journey, not a fitness destination. 

If the goal is to attain a healthy body weight for better health, Sheppard says you should take your current body weight and see how long it’d take you to reach your desired weight by losing one to two pounds per week. More weight loss than that is unhealthy. Then add on another month to plan for setbacks. 

“Set attainable goals,” Sheppard said. “And give yourself time to meet the goal, even with setbacks to avoid throwing in the towel.”

By setting unattainable or unrealistic goals, you run the risk of quitting exercising all together. If you’re new to exercise and your goal is to run a 5K, you shouldn’t expect to be ready for the run in a month.

Instead, focus on building up to your ultimate goal. Depending on your fitness level, you may start with walking and then progress to running. Or you may set your first goal to be able to run a mile within the first month of training. Once that’s been accomplished, raise it to two miles. By accomplishing these smaller goals, you feel rewarded and they help you track your progress.

For more details on goal setting, read about setting SMART goals.

How will you achieve your goal?

Once you have decided on your health and fitness goal, you need to consider how you will reach that goal. Different fitness goals require different approaches. 

Select a training program with a method that aligns with your fitness goal. For example, if you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll want to include resistance training in your program. If you’re wanting to run a 5K, your exercise program should include appropriate cardio training.

For those whose goal is to enjoy time with their kids and get fit, it may be a bit harder to figure out where to go in the gym to get the results you want. A good place to start is following the 8 Steps to Get Cooperized™ developed by Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, Founder and Chairman of Cooper Aerobics. Specific to his step to “exercise most days of the week,” 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity and two to three strength training sessions each week are recommended. 

For more information about beginning an exercise program, watch this video with Angela Horner, MS, Professional Fitness Trainer at Cooper Fitness Center.

Or you may turn to a wellness program. They exist to improve and promote your health at any fitness level. Wellness programs such as Cooper Quest® assess your current level of health and fitness and provide custom fitness recommendations to help you achieve results. Cooper Quest® provides tools, resources and encouragement and the foundation of the program are five key health areas:

  • Cardiovascular Fitness
  • Blood Work
  • Body Composition
  • Well-Being
  • Functional Fitness

Train with a coach

One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is using incorrect form when exercising. It can be hard to unlearn bad habits, so it’s best to start off using the proper form. 

A professional fitness trainer can show you the ins and outs of exercising safely—including proper form—and develop a customized exercise routine that’s right for you regardless of your goal. A professional fitness trainer can be your designated spotter for strength training, or a cardiovascular pro can help you get in shape for that 5K. No matter what, a fitness professional can help give us the confidence and safety we need for an effective exercise routine.

For more information about personal training or to schedule a session with a professional fitness trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.